Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Bleeding Talent: How the U.S. Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

Bleeding Talent: How the U.S. Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution

Article excerpt

By Tim Kane

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Palgrave Macmillan, 2012 288 pp. $30

ISBN: 978-0-230-39127-7

Tim Kane's January 2011 article entitled "Why Our Best Officers are Leaving," published in The Atlantic, gave the world a preview of his new book and was the focal point of conversation across the officer ranks of the U.S. military. In early 2011, American military officers were nodding in agreement with the results of Kane's study regarding Army officers' decisions to stay in or leave the military. His article and book focus specifically on a sample of West Point graduates and their experience, but the outcomes and conclusions of his survey resonated across the Services.

The highlights of Kane's study are summed up in the answers to three questions:

* The most common answer to why officers left the military was frustration with the military bureaucracy (82 percent of respondents with 50 percent strongly agreeing).

* Ninety-three percent of respondents believed that most of the best officers leave the military early rather than serving a full career.

* Many of the best officers who leave the Service would stay if the military were more fully a meritocracy (90 percent).

Bleeding Talent makes a case based on this study, external data from the private sector, and anecdotes that the military is a major source of great leaders and vital entrepreneurial thought. Veterans are disproportionately represented at the highest levels of American business. Yet the military has historically had trouble retaining that talent and applying it internally to spur entrepreneurialism within the military.

Aside from the survey itself, it is through anecdotes that Kane's depiction of mismanagement of high-performing field-grade officers will have real staying power with the reader. The most famous of these is the case of John Nagl--a prominent counterinsurgency specialist with substantial intellectual heft and educational pedigree--who left the Army as a lieutenant colonel after 18 years of service, just 2 years shy of a military pension and obvious qualification for promotion to colonel. Put simply, Nagl saw better opportunity on the outside for career advancement and to capitalize on his talents. A less-known and perhaps more telling anecdote is the story of Major Dick Hewitt, an Army officer who was hand selected for a prime command position in Korea that would have torn his family apart. Rather than sacrifice family for career, he left the Service in favor of eventual success as an entrepreneur in finance in central California. The ironic coda to this story is that Hewitt later met another of the command-selected officers who chose to stay in the Army despite being assigned to another duty station that did not work well for his family. After comparing circumstances, Hewitt discovered that the other officer had been assigned to a duty station that would have worked well for Hewitt's family; the other officer's wife was Korean, and she would have enjoyed being stationed in Korea. Had the manpower system allowed or enabled that conversation to happen earlier, both outstanding officers would have remained in the Service.

Kane uses this analysis to argue on behalf of a free market system that he calls the Total Volunteer Force (TVF) that would overhaul and revolutionize the military manpower system. …

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